Stand By Your Man

The split referenced in the title of A Separation happens right up front in the opening frames, but turns out to be just the first little domino that sets off a very sad chain of events. The dissolution of a marriage is actually the problem with the lowest stakes. Simin initiates the divorce because her husband Nader refuses to move with her and their daughter Termeh out of Iran because Nader insists on staying to care for his father, who is suffering from Alzheimer's. Simin remains in town, but does move out of the family home, forcing Nader to hire a caretaker for his father while he's away at work. And that's where the real trouble begins.

I won't give away everything that happens, because I want to encourage people to see this movie. But I will say that grudges soon develop between Nader and the caretaker (Razieh), drawing both of their families into an escalating web of accusations and consequences.

This movie won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for 2011, and it's not hard to understand why. It comments on so many aspects of Iranian culture, from religion to gender roles to health care to the justice system, and handles them all with aplomb. It is decidedly not a joyful romp; each and every character is really put through the wringer. But there's no denying that it's a riveting story, and contains some really haunting performances.

I often skip a lot of acclaimed foreign movies, not because I'm fiercely protective of American cinema, but because it often seems like the only movies to make their way here from other shores are in some sort of competition to see who can be the most hopeless and bleak. While A Separation certainly trades in unhappiness, it does so in a way that fascinates, rather than repels. While it may have been a difficult watch, it was definitely a worthwhile one.

A Separation: B+


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